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James Winn


World Premiere Recordings



“[The chamber ensemble] displays virtuosity, polish, control of nuance and balance... Throughout the CD, James Winn proves himself to be a virtuoso pianist and chamber musician. He is not only a gifted performer, but his writing is stylish, fluid, and is certain to be well-received by listeners.”
Pan Pipes, Sigma Alpha Iota [Spring 2016]
“Winn’s musical style is based on tonal romantic music. There are modern and popular elements in it, but it is primarily lyrical and reminiscent of Nature and the past—more so than anything else I have heard lately. The musicians play it with sentiment, and I found it enjoyable and well recorded.”
D. Moore, American Record Guide [May/June 2016]
"James Winn composes music [with] lovely, long-flowing , late-Romantic lines, rich in instrumental virtuosity and heart-on-sleeve emotion... The music is richly played... The sound is superb..."
Laurence Vittes, Gramophone [March 2016]
“Winn’s music is thought-provoking and frequently delightful... This is terrific musical entertainment, richly managed by the composer and delivered with terrific verve by the instrumentalists involved. Here, the energy really is that of a live performance. I love Winn’s imagination and his curiosity in, as well as respect for, his heritage. Absolutely, unhesitatingly recommended.”
Colin Clarke, Fanfare [March/April 2016]
“The three chamber works presented here have an appealing simplicity of expression, and openness of spirit, which demonstrate that an old- fashioned romantic language can remain personal today.... The biggest problem with this disc is the best kind of problem to have: there’s not enough of it… What else has James Winn been writing for the past thirty years? I would love to hear more of it.”
Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International [February 2016]
“James Winn hews closely to traditional classical models in the chamber works on a new MSR Classics CD. Familiarity with the works of earlier composers who are echoed in Winn’s chamber music, or those to whom the music offers a respectful bow, will help listeners garner full enjoyment of these chamber pieces, although they are well-constructed and interesting enough on their own not to require substantial knowledge of their building blocks and homages.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [January 2016]
Variations on a Theme of Bartók for Cello and Piano (1977, revised 2010) was written - as has been much of my music involving the cello – for the excellent Nevada cellist John Lenz, a long-time friend and colleague. The title is something of a misnomer, as the melody on which the variation set is based is actually a Hungarian folksong “Kis Kece Lányom (my little graceful girl)”, one of the short pieces set by Béla Bartók in “For Children, Vol.I” (1908-9). However, because this is the version I have known since childhood, I give Bartók the credit, even though my arrangement is not identical to his. In any case, the style and variation technique used here owe a great deal more to Brahms or Mendelssohn than to Bartók.

Masque for Oboe, Cello and Piano (1981) was written for John Lenz and his sister, Andrea. It is meant to suggest (not remotely in terms of style, but in terms of pacing and, perhaps, mood) the sort of music that might have been used to accompany a short ballet/pantomime in the baroque-rococo French court. Such entertainments, especially in the court of Louis XIV, who was very fond of dance and had no need to economize on it, would have been lavishly staged, but with the dance itself being far less athletic than one sees in modern ballet (most of the content of which had yet to be invented). The form would often include a stately entrance for the courtly participants (nothing too difficult – a stylized version of court social dances, or even merely a promenade to show off the elaborate costumes), followed by more demanding dances for the professional dancers (or those who, like the Sun King, were serious and accomplished amateurs), and then a closing pageant (again dedicated more to the creation of the visual tableau than to actual dancing). The three movements which comprise this Masque consist of an Introduction (a dignified Introitus which alternates rondo-fashion with a flowing Minuet), a Pastorale (another favorite court entertainment in which the courtiers played at being shepherds and shepherdesses), and a brisk Finale featuring a second theme in the rhythm of an Estampie. The Apotheosis coda of the Finale contains music inspired by the “transfiguration” portion of Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, mixed with a brief cyclical return of the theme of the opening Introitus.

Three Nocturnes for Piano Trio (1986-87) was written for summer performances in and around the Lake Tahoe area. It was premiered by Suzanne Beia on violin, John Lenz on cello, and the composer at the piano, and has since become my most frequently programmed work, having received performances across the United States and even as far away as Taiwan. Each movement is based loosely on a literary theme.

I. Invocation of Selene: The idea for this movement came from a novel of Thorne Smith. In that book, some amateur occultists try to summon Venus the Goddess of Love, and, due to a mistake in their Latin, end up invoking Diana, Goddess of the Moon, instead (Diana, Goddess of Chastity as well, takes a very dim view of their amorous intentions). In this movement, however, the satirical slant of Smith’s novel is absent. The music depicts a serene and beautiful moonlit night which is then contrasted with the awe and consternation engendered when the moon Goddess actually manifests.

II. Seannachie: The seannachie is the story-teller/historian/lore-master of a Celtic community. In this movement I have used the folk and bagpipe embellishments of my own Scottish/Irish heritage. The tale I had in mind was that of Tam Lin, the young man who was taken by the Queen of the Sidhe to be her thrall in the realm of Faerie. His true love comes to rescue him, and the tenacity and purity of her love breaks the spells set upon him and frees him to return to the daylight world with her. The form of the movement is loosely palindromic. It has an ‘ABA’ structure, with the middle section representing the revels (and struggle for freedom) in the faerie court. The melodic elements exposed in the A section then return in more-or-less reversed order in the ‘A’ section as the lady successfully leads Tam Lin back out.

III. Louhi’s Conjuring: This movement is a musical homage to the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It is based on a story from the Finnish folk-epic, the Kalevala. Louhi, the witch-queen of the land of Pohjola, has stolen the Sampo, a magical mill that has the power to grind out any substance its user commands. Louhi casts her spell and orders it to grind salt, which it does… abundantly. However, since the mill was obtained by theft, Louhi never had any operating instructions for it, and when she tries to get it to stop, she is unable. Finally, to save her entire land from being buried in salt, she throws the Sampo (still merrily grinding away) into the sea, which is why the sea is now salty. The music starts with the dark and mysterious sounds of the spell-casting, and then the mill begins to grind faster and faster. Occasionally the sorcery music returns, each time with mounting desperation, as the witch tries spell after spell, but the salt-grinder remains triumphant to the end. [James Winn, June 2015]

James Winn, made his professional debut with the Denver Symphony Orchestra at age thirteen, and has been performing widely in North America, Europe and Asia ever since. With his duo-piano partner, Cameron Grant, he was a recipient of the top prize in the two-piano category of the 1980 A.A.R.D. International Competition in Munich. Winn has been a solo pianist with the New York City Ballet, a member of the New York New Music Ensemble and of Hexagon, as well as a frequent guest with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Speculum, the Group for Contemporary Music and Bargemusic. Known as a specialist in new music, he has been involved in numerous world premieres and premiere recordings by many renowned composers, among them more than a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. He is the pianist of the Argenta Trio, and also performs regularly in recital with internationally acclaimed New York-based violinist Rolf Schulte. Dr. Winn’s own compositions have been performed internationally. In 2009, he received the Governor of the State of Nevada’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Winn is currently piano and composition professor at the University of
Nevada, Reno and principal keyboard of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra and Reno Chamber Orchestra, having held those positions since 1997.

JAMES WINN (b.1952)
(1977; rev. 2010)

Finale and Apotheosis

Invocation of Selene
Louhi’s Conjuring

MSR Classics
Unaccompanied Works II for Violin and Viola STEPHANIE …

Sonatas Nos.1-3, Scherzo in C minor STEPHANIE …

Unaccompanied Works for Violin & Viola


Three Late Sonatas for Violin and Piano